The Irish Language

Lovely article in the Chicago Tribune about the Irish language. Certain parallels with Welsh!


Well, here’s hoping for an Irish course once SSIBorg is fully up and running (as well as the other necessities for creating a new course)…


I have been meaning to ask any of you who know Irish about the meanings of fina foil, fianna gael, sin fein… (spellings approximate). i.e. the political parties in Ireland!

Fein is “self” I believe. Reflexive. “Agus ta fein?” is “and yourself?” when you want to readdress the question. So Sinn Fein must be “we ourselves”.

But I can be wrong. My knowledge of Irish is almost non-existent, though I’ve long been interested in it and in the culture of the Irish-speaking population of the Blasket Islands (now deserted, I think).

That would make perfect sense, because they are, basically, the Independence Party! Since the Republic is Independent, now they stand for the Union of Ireland, but the name dates from the time of British rule!

Fina Foil must be “Fianna Fáil”. Fianna is “soldiers”, Fáil - destiny, thus soldiers of destiny. And Fine Gael are “the Irish Nation/Race”.

Thanks for the question, @henndraig, I normally don’t know anything about politics and I just got to know two Irish parties:)

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Three, if we count Sinn Fein!! - Independence
Fianna Fail - Soldiers of Destiny
Fine Gael - the Irish National (Party)
and thank you! I have been wondering for years but never bothered to find out!!
p.s. I love “Soldiers of Destiny”!! Very stirring and Celtic!! :smiley:

Well, Sinn Fein I knew already:) I wrote an analysis of a news article about them when I was at university:)

And you’re always welcome :sunny:

Lovely article in the Chicago Tribune about the Irish language. Certain parallels with Welsh!

Certain parallels with Cornish too — meur ras! :wink:

Do you speak it? As far as I know, the original language of Britain was pretty universal throughout the main island and smaller isles, but with dialects, as one would expect. The Romans built that wall and invented Caledonia, no doubt causing ‘Pictish’ to develop differences. When the Angles, Sais etc… invaded, differences in dialect became stronger due to lack of contact. Hence Cornish, Breton (well, OK Armorica was where Romano-Brits getting back to the Empire went!), Cumbrian…
That is what I’ve always thought!
But didn’t Cornish die out and need reviving?

A little… :wink:

Yes. There’s a Say Something in Cornish course on this same website — not with nearly as big a following as SSi Welsh (so far), but at least it’s there.

With regard to the article about Irish (which was what I was referring to as having “certain parallels” with Cornish), here’s the part that most rang true with me as a Cornish learner who occasionally gets asked “Why would you bother learning a language that no-one speaks??”:

Some argue Irish is on its way to being a dead language. So what? Join the club of the Latin speakers, the Greek readers — it’s a community. As a teacher at the Irish American Heritage Center said to me recently, you learn Irish for the same reason you learn any other language: because you want to…

Pearse knew the worth of Irish didn’t lie in its ability to supplant English; knowing English is far too valuable. No, the value of Irish comes from something much more intangible — the connection to family, history and culture that English just can’t offer. It’s the best kind of secret code.

So to anyone who hopes to join this hodgepodge group of native speakers, ancestry aficionados and language enthusiasts, I have one thing to say to you:

Failte agus go n’eiri an t-adh leat. Welcome and good luck.


I think the difference between Welsh and Irish (I think) is that Welsh is still a genuinely living language in certain areas, and many of us would like those areas to grow and develop (and hopefully spread back outwards, reversing the historic trend of them shrinking). Clearly this has really got to be done from inside Wales.

So what part do those of us outside Wales play? Well, I’m not 100% sure, but I’d like to think that we could be encouragers in some way.

I can’t lay my hand on it for the moment, but I was given an old copy of a book written in the 1970s or 1980s about the state of Welsh then. I have referred to it in previous postings. When I dig it out I will edit this one with the details. Anyway, the author of that book was arguing against enforced bilingualism in all of Wales, and said what needed to happen was a strengthening of what he called the heartland areas, where Welsh was then still being spoken by most people every day.

Since then, I think those heartlands have shrunk, at least somewhat, although the overall situation has probably, hopefully improved a bit. It’s a complex situation.


There are many who would like Wales to replicate the Gaeltecht areas in Ireland and given official designation and rights to the equivalent Y-Fro in Wales. I can understand this, but you have to ask whether the Gaeltecht has worked in Ireland and I don’t see any evidence to suggest that it has. Then you have to ask why hasn’t it worked, when Irish has everything going for it – it is the official state language, it is supported with laws and with finance to an extent that we could only dream of in Wales.

I think it comes down to the fact that everyone has to be in this together and want to be. Once you lose that “cariad yr iaith” and warmth for the language in the non-heartland areas, then you will never get it back. The risk of a Welsh Gaeltecht is that people will just accept, that the Language is only for the Fro and no-one else has to do anything or even worse believe that it simply isn’t relevant or important anywhere else. Language revival is about looking for ways to grow the language, not trying to find the best way to organise a retreat. It needs positive and progressive thinking and needs to be heard everywhere, spoken by normal people in normal situations. The last thing that you want is a siege mentality that you would get, when you create protected areas and get in involved in an organised retreat. I think this is part of the problem in Ireland – they have made it an historic language – not relevant in a modern, technology driven world…

I think support from outside of Wales is also vitally important – when you hear stories like the star of ET being able to speak Welsh, then news like that is worth a thousand learner’s books.

We need more like that – if people in Canada, Belarus, Slovenia, the USA , South Africa and Australia are trying to learn and use Welsh and are developing a little bit of love for the language then that should be a powerful motivator and a bit of special PR that we can use to motivate ourselves here in Wales. When people in England are learning Welsh, well that is just amazing – it shows that it is possible for the Welsh and English languages to happily live alongside each other. We can’t fight a war against English and why would we want to do that. I think that the reason the language is still in with a strong chance of survival and growth in Wales, is because we haven’t picked a battle with English (I think that English is a beautiful language to be able to speak). We can’t take on the very small minority of people in England and Wales who despise the Welsh language – the very few Daily Mail journalists etc, who like to prod their sticks every now and again. We need friends across the border to help us there. There are some who would like us in Wales to come across as a bunch of stereotyped, backward looking, introverted negative whingers. This is the response those small number of journalists who write stories about “moribund monkey languages” etc are looking for – yet they fail on every count, because Welsh with all of its history is amusingly also a very modern, forward looking language, that refuses to be stereotyped.


Brilliant @Toffidil Excellently put! I do think the advent of the Senedd helped. I was one who wanted it in Abertawe, but I can see that Cardiff turned out very well, with folk realising Cymraeg was useful… jobs as translators, jobs for which Cymraeg was an advantage as one might be dealing with visitors as well as AMs who spoke it in preference to English. AMs coming who wanted their kids educated in yr hen iaith! So all sorts of imfluencial folk arrived in the capital and wrought change which favoured Cymraeg!!
(My preference for Abertawe wasn’t just because I was living nearby. I know that Cardiff was a scrappy little place before the Marquis of Bute married it - so to speak -spotted its potential as a coal port and poured funds into it. Bute, near here, has far less potential! So Cardiff lacked historic reason to be capital. I’m not saying Swansea had that, but I could see moving to Machynlleth wasn’t on the cards!)
I suspect Irish had two problems, not enough native speakers still there and a newly independent Government with ever such good intentions!! We are learning from them!!!

It’s impossible to compare, of course (until someone figures out how to travel to an alternate universe where the Gaeltachtai weren’t set up) - but it’s reasonable, I think, to suggest that the best sign the Gaeltachtai made a positive difference is that the language still exists.

At the beginning of the 20th century, when Wales was still about 45% Welsh speaking (and way over 80% in the Bro Gymraeg), Irish was already under huge, huge pressure - I think I’m right that the qualifying percentage of speakers for a Gaeltacht was just 25%, which at that time would have made a Bro Gymraeg pretty much the whole of Wales.

The key issue in language shift reversal in Wales is that different policies are needed/possible in different parts of the country - normalisation of the language in Gwynedd is possible in ways that simply wouldn’t work in Newport, for example. There’s no reason for that to be mutually exclusive with all the valuable work that needs to be done in areas where Welsh is no longer a community language… :sunny:


I agree that if some areas have the chance to push through things more easily than others then they should be supported to go for it, but a lot of things would also be better done at an all Wales level. I’m looking at it as a non bro resident and I wouldn’t like my local authority having too many opt-outs of things, just because it isn’t a bro area.

I am really annoyed about something at the moment, related to education and it’s a specific issue that needs an alll Wales solution. If policies in the fro could demonstrate best practice, that could be rolled out across Wales then that would be a good thing, but I do worry that non fro areas would end up opting to do less than they currently do and we need to make sure that we discuss a lot of things and plan a lot things collectively across the whole of Wales and don’t concede anything in the creation of specific areas or regions.for the language and culture.

Some things that are annoying me at the moment are best not aired publicly and I certainly hope those sorts of things don’t end up clouding my judgement.

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Finally dug it out:

“Culture in Crisis: The Future of the Welsh Language” by Clive Betts
The Ffynnon Press, 1976

(Note: this is not the Clive Betts who is currently an MP. The author of this book was a journalist, now retired I think).

Here is an interesting review (and brief summary) of the book from an Irish perspective:

Some other interesting / vaguely relevant articles here:

Obviously a lot has changed since 1976. I’d be interested to know what sort of book Clive Betts would write today. (Be aware that google searches on his name are quite likely to bring up the “wrong” Clive Betts).

Tagging @Toffidil , @gavinM

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I’ve got to rush off and get my dinner, so will read the above tomorrow morning, but I thought I would tell you that I was shocked to find that @margaretwerdermann’s aunt knew the use of the ‘not’ in school in the 1930s or 1940s in Clwyd. See the topic: “Why are you learning Welsh”
To @Toffidil I started a topic basically about the evils of Bandwagons in Education, so can sympathise!

Absolutely true. Broadly speaking, I’d suggest that linguistic rights need to be looked at on a national level, but that the key work of language shift reversal is only achievable in areas where Welsh is still spoken as a community language. The problem with too much focus on national stuff is that it lets the government off the hook entirely with things like Welsh medium education for all, which ought to be the norm in the Bro Gymraeg, and other more radical steps which would never even get considered at a national level (but which could be absolutely vital for maintaining the Welsh speaking communities without which there’s no chance of building a genuinely bilingual country).


@aran bach, do you have any idea at all what to do about monoglot English incomers who mutter about the Queen’s English and expect every activity, Women’s Institute (Merched y Wawr), Parish Council, NFU, Church, Chapel…etc. to switch for their benefit?

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